Yugoslavia broke apart and blood flowed. Now, 20 years later, the scattered parts are on their way into the European Union as full member states.
We must be grateful that the breakdown of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union went as smoothly as it did. Although there were bad incidents, it could certainly have become much worse. Even here prospects opened up for closer ties between EU and the former communist countries and Soviet republics. With one exception â€“ Russia!
Russia was different â€“ and big! I suspect that the major EU countries made the decision to not include Russia not so much because Russia is different as because, if it were allowed to enter, their former roles of big guys would become reduced! So EU did not present an incentive for Russia to enter a road against a better and more democratic government.
During the first chaotic years under Yeltsin the lack of EU prospects was possibly of minor importance, but in the long run this has led to increased separation between the two parties, culminating in the present Ukrainian crisis.
Years of cold war made the Russian people skeptical to the West and when the Iron Curtain fell there was no outstretched hand from Europe to dissolve this skepticism. The Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and RussiaÂ that was formed on 1 January 2010 and a first step towards forming a broaderÂ alliance of former Soviet states was a consequence of the decision to not let Russia come closer to EU. All in all this has led us back to a situation of distrust and confrontation almost as during the Cold War.
At the same time as EU neglected to form trustful and deeper relationships with Russia, it did not react seriously on the increasing authoritarian tendencies exemplified with the murder of Ana Politkovskaya. And the Germans made a serious mistake promoting the building of a direct pipe, Nord Stream, from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. This gas pipe was built in order to avoid gas transport through Eastern Europe and especially avoid the part through Ukraine. Since it was made I name the treaty between Germany and Russia concerning Nord Stream the Putin-SchrÃ¶der Pact in remembrance of another dubious treaty â€“ namely the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. (It is a miracle that there never was a trial against Gerhard ShrÃ¶der for his role in this treaty because, as soon as he left his office as Chancellor, he became a director of the gas pipe company Nord Stream AG, to 51 % owned by Russian Gazprom).
During the Russia-Georgia war in 2008 EU also played their cards badly as they criticized Russia and paid little attention to the fact that it was Georgia who was the original aggressor. Least objective was the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. Russia was criticized, but there were no further actions.
I think of the situation in Georgia as what can happen in a schoolyard. A small aggressive boy is attacking the big bully, who of course gives back. When they blame the big bully, but not the small guy, the bully is of course pissed off. And next time he might as well attack first, it does not matter, he will be blamed, but nothing more will happen.
Of course we must primarily blame Putin and Russia for what is happening in Ukraine, but the European Union is also responsible, as they have played their cards badly. The offer to Ukraine from EU for a closer relationship made an impossible pressure on Ukrainian President Yanukovych to choose side – EU or Russia. A closer relationship with both of them was never an option. And when Yanukovych did not make a choice according to the majority of his people, the crisis broke out.
At the moment we donâ€™t know the outcome of the crisis, but sadly it looks like the EU will allow whatever happens without taking serious counter actions. After having decided to shut down all nuclear power plants Germany is more than ever dependent on Russian gas and will certainly try to calm down every attempt of concerned EU states (e.g. Baltic States) to react forcefully on Russian aggressions.
And forceful action is what is needed. If Russia intends to keep Crimea, the cost for this must be higher than the gain they get. This can only mean one thing, an import ban on Russian gas and oil to all countries within the European Union. This will of course also hurt the EU countries, but the alternative is worse, namely that Putin, in absence of effective counter measures, whets his appetite like Hitler did after the Munich Agreement.
Then I will mention a small, but selective possible action. There are a lot of construction workers, mostly from former Soviet states, that were not paid for their work building the Olympic arenas in Sochi. The EU should form a fund and remunerate these workers and then claim back the money from the Russian Government using all legal means. Even if the fund does not get the money back, I am sure it will be a humiliating and painful process for Putin and worthwhile to try.
Finally there is also another country that is being treated in the same manner as Russia and now is sliding away from the democratic road, namely Turkey. With a prospect for Turkey to join the European Union I doubt whether Erdogan would have acted as he have done during the last years, suppressing the expression of freedom, intervening directly in police actions and suspending the judiciary’s independence.